LAKELAND – With so many teams in the hunt going into the final round of the 2016 Lady Moc Classic, it should probably come as no surprise that for the first time in the tournament's 18-year history there was a tie atop the team standings. What may have been a surprise was how easily Lynn's Jenny Ayala came away with the individual trophy. Over an incredibly deep field, Ayala ended up winning by five strokes, and her final-round 73 helped the Knights win the team title based on a tie-breaker over Rollins.
The Tars held a 3-stroke lead over Barry after two rounds, with Lynn tied for seventh and nine strokes off the pace. The Knights were the only team on Tuesday to have all five of their golfers in the 70's and all of them had a 76 or better in conditions that were not as favorable as Monday. For most of the final round, the wind had picked up to its more usual level at Grasslands Golf and Country Club, but the Knights had no trouble scoring a 297 for the only sub-300 round any team had for any round in the tournament.
That 297 allowed the Knights to catch Rollins and finish the Lady Moc Classic with a 908 (+44) overall after the Tars had a 306 on the final day. The Knights were declared tournament champion based on the score of their fifth (non-counter) golfer in the final round, which was a 76 by either Samantha Barber or Lucia Jimenez Martin. The Tars' fifth golfer, Paige Lyle, shot an 82. The closest previous finish at a Lady Moc Classic occurred in 2002 when North Carolina State finished one stroke ahead of Miami.
The 9-stroke deficit overcome by Lynn is the largest in tournament history. In 2009, Nova Southeastern came back to win after trailing Rollins by seven strokes going into the final round, and that was also the last time any team came back for a win when it was behind at that point in the tournament. The Sharks were in third place that year, however, while the Knights came back from seventh place this year.
Florida Southern was in the race all the way too and eventually finished third with a total score of 911 (+47). The Moccasins had a 302 in the final round, with only Lynn out-shooting them. The 3-stroke difference from first to third was the closest since the same 2009 tournament that saw Rollins come back to win by two strokes over both Florida Southern and Nova Southeastern. Their 302 on Tuesday nearly equaled their season-best score of 301 which they shot in the second round on Monday.
The Moccasins' 911 gave them a 5-stroke margin over Barry, which finished fourth after holding the lead in round one. The Buccaneers had a 311 on Tuesday, which was only ninth for the day. Three teams (Seminole State, West Florida and Flagler) tied for fifth and were nine strokes behind Lynn and Rollins.
Leading the way for Florida Southern was freshman Madison Wetzel, who was the only golfer to shoot par in the final round with her career-best 72. Wetzel started her day on No. 5 and had eight straight pars before picking up the first of her three birdies. One of those came on her final hole when she converted on the par-5 No. 4 and it gave her the first top-10 finish of her career with a 3-round total of 227 (+11). That was good for an eighth-place tie with two other golfers, 10 shots behind Ayala.
Wetzel's 227 was one shot better than senior Kit Creighton who had a 76 on Tuesday after a 72 in round two. That put her in a tie for 11th place, and redshirt junior Shannon McKew joined in her in the top-20 with a total of 230 (+14). Her final-round 74 was her best round of the tournament and the Mocs' second best score of the final round.
The Florida Southern "B" team saw freshman Tori Higgins finish in the top-20 with her score of 231, which included a 78 on Tuesday, enough to put her in a tie for 20th. Only one shot behind her with a 232 was sophomore Kolby McWilliams, who had an 80 in the final round and tied for 28th overall.
Junior Britta Bernth was tied for 49th with a 237, freshman Marisa Boccabella was tied for 71st with a 246, and fifth-year senior Emma Marlatt was tied for 73rd with a 247. Marlatt's 79 was the "B" team's second lowest score of the day behind only the 78 by Higgins.
With Ayala shooting a 73 in the final round for Lynn and a 217 total, she finished five shots ahead of Rollins' Lexie Toth, who also had a 73 on Tuesday. Rollins' Annie Dulman and Barry's Nicole Ferre were tied for third with a 224 after Ferre had started the day only one shot behind Ayala. Ferre, however, had a 79 in the final round to fall seven shots behind the winner.
Ayala's one-over par 217 was just one stroke off the tournament scoring record set by Samantha Smolen of Lynn in 2014. Smolen is the only golfer to ever finish with an even-par score, and Ayala is now one of two who have finished at one-over. The other is Katrina Wang who was at 217 for Nova Southeastern in 2014. Ayala also equaled the second largest margin of victory (5 strokes), with only the 2010 tournament won by Nova's Sandra Changkija decided by more than that. Changkija won by nine shots.
Florida Southern's next tournament will be February 29-March 1 in Winter Springs at the Peggy Kirk Bell Invitational hosted by Rollins.